Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon gets a celebratory ice-water bath after the Owls’ victory in their inaugural game Sept. 3, 2015 at East Tennessee State. Since then, Kennesaw State has added 40 more wins, to only 13 losses.

When people think of the gold standard when it comes to start-up football programs at the Football Championship Subdivison level, most will focus on one program -- Georgia Southern.

For the first 32 years of the program that was reborn in 1982 following a post-World War II dormancy, the Eagles won six national championships in a tradition started by former Georgia defensive coordinator Erk Russell and later continued by Paul Johnson.

There have been a flurry of programs that have been born since 2000. Of those, most who follow FCS football say Old Dominion is the program to be used as a blueprint.

If you take a close look, there is a third team that could be wedging itself into the discussion of how to do it -- Kennesaw State.

When the Owls defeated Missouri State two weeks ago, it marked the 40th win in the program's short program history. It took only 53 games to get there.

That is better than every program that has started since the year 2000, with the exception of Old Dominion, which did it in 52 games.

In the short four-plus years of the program, Kennesaw State has never been under .500, has a record of 24-4 at home and has an even more absurd record of 36-1 when leading after the third quarter.

When reviewing the other teams that began football since 2000, very few come close to Kennesaw State's production.

Mercer started its program two years before the Owls, and the Bears were looking to win their 40th game in their 75th attempt. East Tennessee State, which relaunched its program the same year Kennesaw State kicked off for the first time, is looking for win No. 22.

Looking back to the announcement of football coming to Kennesaw back in 2010, it would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would have believed this amount of success could be achieved this fast -- including coach Brian Bohannon and then-athletic director Vaughn Williams.

However, both agree the program has successfully followed the vision they had in getting it started.

"I think we've been pretty close," Bohannon said. "The goals we put in place were long-term. We put everything in place for long-term success. Now, there have been some things we've had to navigate along the way, but the things we wanted to do the way we wanted to look, the way we wanted to go about our business, I think we had a good plan. We have to give our kids and coaches credit to get them to win enough, to get enough buy-in the way we do things to have that carry over from class to class.

That buy-in started in 2013, shortly after Kennesaw State hired Bohannon from Johnson's staff at Georgia Tech.

Bohannon and his assistants had to sell players on creating history. They had to sell them on creating a foundation for future success to be built upon. Williams said it took a special ability to convince players in an instant-gratification society to come to campus and be patient, and he credited Bohannon and the staff for pulling it off.

"There were the aspirations, desires and hopes that we would be able to build something like this," said Williams, now the senior associate athletic director at Boston College. "Now, when I look back, I sit back and smile. Bohannon has done a lot of work, and the players got behind that vision."

When Bohannon and Williams created the vision, they had one huge advantage going for them -- the university was in the state of Georgia.

Talent is abundant, especially in and around the metro-Atlanta area. Both men knew it was a built-in recruiting advantage, and if done right, they wouldn't have to go far to create a roster that would be able to compete in any league around the country.

That has remained the case. Of the 100 players on the Owls' 2019 roster, 78 of them are from Georgia, and all but three are from the Southeast

As play began in 2015, it was important for Kennesaw State to have a means to develop rivalries, so getting into the Big South Conference starting on Day 1 was key. Players immediately had a chance to play for something. That has paid off with two conference championships already, and two automatic bids into the FCS playoffs. 

In addition, while there always seems to be some controversy about it, the triple-option -- or, at least, Bohannon's modified version of it -- has allowed the team to be successful faster than it might have been. The running game has been the calling card of the Owls, who lead the country in rushing with 369.8 yards per game this season and have never finished outside the top six in the FCS since they started playing.

While fans may wish the team threw the ball more, or ran a flashier offense, it is hard to argue with results. It also begs the question, would you rather win like Kennesaw State is doing, or throw the ball all over the field and finish 5-7?

"I have conversations with other athletic directors up here," Williams said. "I don't understand why more (unestablished) programs don't want to try the triple-option. Teams don't want to have to prepare for something they don't see every week. It gives you an advantage."

One other thing Bohannon and the staff have done is schedule accordingly.

It was important to build a winning tradition early, especially at home. Initially, that was why teams like Point, Shorter and Clark Atlanta found their way onto the schedule.

With Kennesaw State's continued success since, those games are trying to disappear, but now it is going in the other direction. There aren't as many teams that are willing to agree to play the Owls prior to the postseason because teams in other conferences may not be able to absorb another loss and remain a viable playoff option.

"We leveraged relationships," Williams said. "We got games wherever we could get games."

Going forward, scheduling will be a big challenge, and not just with non-conference games.

Currently, the Big South is down. Heading into Saturday's games, the conference's teams had a combined overall record of 16-22. Only Kennesaw State, Campbell and Hampton had winning records, which puts more pressure on each non-conference game to be able to make a statement to the NCAA selection committee.

However, its hard to want it any other way. Currently, the Owls are becoming a victim of their own success. They even have a better record than Georgia Southern did when they got their 40th win. However, the Eagles did win  national championships in Years 4 and 5.

Kennesaw State hasn't gotten there yet, but it is knocking on the door. It is all part of Bohannon's vision of long-term success, and at this point, it's hard to doubt that it will eventually happen. 

John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and the former president of Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at or on Twitter @jbednarowski


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